Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A short tramp full of contrasts among the Pentland Hills

29th August 2008

When I first moved to Edinburgh, I had a good view of the Pentland Hills from my bedroom window but somehow never got the notion of visiting them. It is true that Scotland has many distractions and the city of Edinburgh itself can be listed among them but I suppose that the idea of visiting lesser hills was never about to happen when the country is rightly renowned for its highland areas of Lochaber, Skye, Argyll and so much more. In fact, that’s where my attention took me when I decided to see some of its countryside before I left Scotland to work south of the border.

Ironically, it was that relocation to the north of England that spurred the development of the hill wandering habit rather than the empty wonders of which Scotland has so many. Thus, I have since discovered areas accessible from Edinburgh such as the hill country near Peebles and the Southern Uplands proper. The countryside immediately north of Glasgow, like that surrounding Loch Lomond, was a worthy proposition for more visits than I paid to the area and it wouldn’t have been that far away either.

You might try explaining away the fact that I didn’t travel so widely in Scotland when I lived there by saying that I was a student in those days. The proximity of the Pentlands makes that only a partially successful excuse. As it happened, the world of computing commanded my interest while outdoor activities for me then mainly involved cycling around Edinburgh itself and frequenting its public parks. In other words, I simply hadn’t developed the interest in hill country that I have today. That is not to say that I didn’t have a soft spot for fine countryside but I was wont to go after the exceptional rather than enjoy the wonders of what is less so. A consequence of this thinking was that faraway hills seemed more wondrous than what was nearby. That kind of thinking still occasionally stops me from exploring what is local to me, only to go further away, but I have been heading away from the obvious honeypots for a few years now. The great thing about going to places off the beaten track is that they are good for the opportunities they offer for the clearing of my head of the stresses and strains of modern life. They also can be on your own doorstep, which is even better.

It is perhaps odd that the journey from exploring the famous and wonderful hill country to quieter and equally enjoyable spots brought me to spending a few hours exploring those hills that I was accustomed to seeing out my window all those years ago. It so happened that it was last weekend that allowed that chance on what was otherwise a social visit to Scotland’s capital.

As if to accentuate the curiosity of my never having set foot on them, the Pentland Hills are well served with frequent bus services. That accessibility allows a number of possible starting points for a walk, and the one that I used was dictated by the appearance in St. Andrew’s Square of the number 15 going by Hillend on its way to Penicuik. That might seem a little haphazard but I could be a little more easygoing when I wasn’t going that far from civilisation anyway. Otherwise, I treated the outing like a local walk among hills near to Macclesfield so I wasn’t carrying that much but still brought plenty of water, waterproofs and a good map, among other things.

Thus, Hillend was where my walk began and I was soon heading uphill in the direction of Caerketton Hill. This was like the other heights that I was to reach in that they were not heady, but even a low sized hill can present a good workout for the legs and this one is very much of that calibre. Allermuir Hill, where I went next, is of the same ilk but it was largely downhill from there on. There might have been a spot of uphill action on the meandering path taking me to Bonaly Country Park but it was nothing compared to the higher points of the hike. I may have been rankled by the route taken by that path but I was soon on the track taking me to the route of the number 10 bus back to base; that track didn’t take long to become a road.

Caerketton Hill, Penicuik, Midlothian, Scotland

The contrast between my previous disinterest in hill country and my interest today wasn’t the only one that pervaded my mind while there, since the hills over which I went offered many very different and varied views, more contrasts if you like. I may never have exceeded 500 metres in height but the relative flatness of the Midlothian countryside round the Pentlands meant that I was able to see far and wide. To the north, I looked down on Edinburgh and picked out its castle, the Commonwealth Swimming Pool, Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and many other landmarks. Further north lay higher hills brooding under cloud-filled skies while Fife and the Firth of Forth with its islands like Bass Rock were sun-drenched in comparison. To the south, heather-covered hills so dominated the vistas that it seemed that they were doing their best to make you forget where you really were.

All in all, I had spent a few hours packed chock-full of contrasts: between past and present, in the mind and round about me, the appearance of the land in sun and in shadow and so on. Here’s another one as if all the others weren’t enough: if I were in Princes Street, I would have been surrounded by hoards processing around on the last weekend of Edinburgh’s Fringe but I was up on hills with plenty of space around me. In previous times, I might have been among the crowds but I now seek peace and quiet to complement and provide relief from the noise of our modern existence. I suppose that we can change over time but I am certain also that there are parts of us that don’t change so much. It’s amazing how a few hours spent among hills on the edge of a city can reveal so many contrasts, changes and differences.

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